Valve is ending the crowdsourced Greenlight submission program, replacing it with a direct sign-up system. Instead of putting a game up for community voting on Greenlight, developers will use a new system called Steam Direct, paying a fee for each title they plan to distribute. “Our goal is to provide developers and publishers with a more direct publishing path,” wrote Valve employee Alden Kroll in a blog post. “After the launch of Steam Greenlight, we realized that it was a useful stepping stone for moving to a more direct distribution system, but it still left us short of that goal.”
Steam Greenlight was launched in 2012 as a way for indie developers to get their games on Steam, even if they weren’t working with a big publisher that had a relationship with Valve. Steam users would vote on Greenlight games, and Valve would accept titles with enough support to suggest that they’d sell well. Kroll says that “over 100” Greenlight titles have made $1 million or more. But Greenlight has also had significant problems. Developers could game the system by offering rewards for votes, and worthy projects could get lost amidst a slew of bad proposals. Since Valve ultimately made the call on including games, the process could also seem arbitrary and opaque. In 2013, Valve founder Gabe Newell described it as a “bottleneck” that didn’t solve the bigger problems with submissions.
The big question is whether what’s replacing it is better. To get a game on Steam Direct, developers will need to “complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account.” Then, they’ll pay an application fee for each game, “which is intended to decrease the noise in the submission pipeline” — a polite way of saying that it will make people think twice before spending money submitting a low-quality game. Steam Direct is supposed to launch in spring of 2017, but the application fee hasn’t been decided yet. Developer feedback has apparently suggested anything from $100 — the current Greenlight submission fee — and $5,000.
We’re not sure how (or how much) Valve will vet submissions. Greenlight was supposed to be a crowdsourced quality filter, but here, the company risks either opening Steam up to a bunch of iffy games, or committing a lot of resources to vetting them. A high submission fee could weed out non-committed developers, but also small indie creators without much money. Kroll says Valve is welcoming input, so there might still be time to affect how it turns out.